Monday, May 10, 2004

finding your own voice

Someone asked Jim Henley what advice he had for someone who wanted to try their hand at poetry, and his advice seems pretty sound for writing of any sort. Actually it can be abstracted into many fields... studying electrical engineering I found that many textbooks make the mistake of teaching things backwards, covering advanced ideas early on and apparently hoping that you'll pick up the little details later. I think "learning the little details" is basically the same thing as "developing intuition", since once you've really understood the essence of a thing you've been changed by that understanding, and you view higher-order problems from a new place. I recall a few times that I suddenly understood something so deeply that months of other work just fell into place - ideas that had previously had no foundation crystallizing into a cohesive whole by something so simple as hearing or reading a single line.

What would I recommend as far as "trying your hand?" Start by slavishly imitating poets you admire. This is the opposite of the standard advice that you need to concentrate on "finding your own voice." Don't take this wrong... but fuck your own voice. Your own voice will take care of itself as your craft matures. Your own voice will, if you're going to have one, insist on emerging. In the meantime, learn the craft.

Develop intuition, make it your 'second nature', and those loftier goals will seem to be a natural extension of who you are. Or possibly you find that your new point of view shows you that going further on a certain path is not for you... either way you learn and grow. I think Henley's got the right idea - don't let who you are get in the way of doing what you want to do. If you really want to do something, change who you are to the point that the thing you want to do is just the most natural thing in the world.


Blogger krishna said...

The points made here are pertinent to aspiring poets like me. Imitation is the best form of learning. I wonder why I never realized that. When one can publish something in a jiffy, one does not really care to polish one’s work. One wishes to offload it as early as possible from one’s mind to a poetry site and wait for people to comment.
“ If you really want to do something, change who you are to the point that the thing you want to do is just the most natural thing in the world.” I can see the wisdom of this advice. Change means effort and often, most of us look for an easy way out.
Jim Henley’s advice and your comments make me feel like a student who received an unexpected peek into the exalted world of learned.
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